Tag Archives: facebook

Which government embraces Facebook? (hint: it's not ours)

A few weeks ago Dave D. kindly sent me this article out of England about how junior public servants are teaching their senior colleagues how to use facebook.

And just in case you think this is an ad hoc thing…

Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson yesterday said Whitehall mandarins had been given new guidelines ‘to encourage civil servants to take the first steps to engage with online social networks’.

I wonder if any Public Servant or Conservative Cabinet minister would be willing to share the same idea with our PM… likely not.

Warning! The social networking site you are about to enjoy is very social.

So the globe had an article yesterday about a group of University of Ottawa law students who lodged a complaint that Facebook breaches Canadian privacy law.

Regarding concerns that Facebook might be sharing the information with advertisers without users consent… fair enough.

But in regards to people not understanding their information is going to be shared publicly? I’m less sure. This quote really struck me:

“There’s definitely some significant shortcomings with Facebook’s privacy settings and with their ability to protect users,” said Harley Finkelstein, 24, one of the four students behind the complaint.

“If a 14-year-old kid in Toronto decides to join Facebook, and is prompted to add a network, and he decides to join the Toronto network – because that’s where he lives – does he really know that everyone on that network – by default – will have access to his personal information?”

Coffee Warning LabelI think the answer is yes. Indeed, that’s probably why the kid’s joining.

So this strikes me as akin to labels on paper coffee cups that say “Warning. Hot!” The fact that coffee is hot is as self-evident as the fact that social networking sites are about enabling people to, well, connect socially with others over the internet.

So we can soon expect to see this post’s title as a warning label on any social networking site. I’m sure they’ll be read as closely as the coffee cup labels are.

Make Government easier (part 1)

The other week I had the pleasure of giving a keynote at the annual DPI conference – put on by the Association of Public Service Professionals. (I’m hoping to slidecast the presentation soon – just trying to get my hands on a recording ofthe presentation).

In the audience were something like 800 IT professionals from the Public Service – a great group of people – many of whom I’m had a great time connecting over email with this past week.

direct.srv.gc.ca_direct500_images_english_titleObviously, I spent some time talking about social networking in a government context – Facebook.gc.ca as I’ve come to refer to it. As many people know (but don’t think about in these terms) the government does offer a social networking piece of software, its called the Government Electronic Directory Service or, for short, GEDS.

As I’ve mentioned before GEDS has limited functionality, it only helps you find someone whose name, phone number or title you already know. But that can still be useful and so a ton of people – both within and outside government. However, after talking to a number of people, I’ve discovered that not one person I’ve met actually knows how to get to the GEDS website. They all have to search for it in Google to find it! Talk about making one of the best IT tools within government difficult to find/use!

Why is that?

Because the GEDS URL (or web address) is the easy to remember:


Really? Why did the people who created this IT directory simply not make everyone’s life easier and make it:


Now, while I think GEDS should be replaced but something more sophisticated, I nonetheless bet that its usage would be much higher – or at least, its users would be much happier – with this little address change.

It’s a simple change – but exactly the kind of thinking that applied more broadly, could make our government run just a little more smoothly.

The long tail of public relations disasters

 “To create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike.”

Virgil Griffith, on why he created WikiScanner

The article below appeared in the Financial Post yesterday – thank you JJ for the hook up.

Admiteldy, this group is hardly that big, but you can imagine that 10, 20 or 50 of these popping up and it could start to become a pesky burden for a large oligarichal company, like, say, a Canadian bank.

I suppose this could be the longtail of protest and dissent. Made possible because the internet allows these frustrated consumers to band together.

Hey, this just came to me. You know who else benefits from this technology? Lawyers in class action suits.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Facebook helps rally dissent over ABCP losses
Scotiabank AGM

Jim Middlemiss, Financial Post Published: Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Facebook site created to advocate on behalf of retail investors in asset-backed commercial paper is gathering steam and members plan to take their message to the floor of the Bank of Nova Scotia annual general meeting today in Edmonton.

ABCP investor Reid Moseley plans to attend the meeting on behalf of Bank of Nova Scotia shareholder and independent Ontario financial analyst Diane Urquhart. Along with fellow ABCP investors Brian Hunter and Layne Arthur, the trio plan to attend today’s meeting to raise questions about the bank’s participation in the ill-fated, $35-billion non-bank ABCP market, which seized last summer.

The men collectively have more than $1.2-million of ABCP in their investment accounts with Canaccord Capital. Canaccord was sued last fall by two British Columbia holders of ABCP and in its legal response, the financial investment firm denied liability and blamed the bank’s related company, Scotia Capital Inc., which sold Canaccord the paper it then distributed to its clients. Canaccord has disclosed it has $269-million in exposure to ABCP, which is believed to be spread among 1,400 investors.

“We’re trying to get the proper proxies sorted out,” said Ms. Urquhart, adding she has identified as much as $770-miillion in ABCP held by retail investors at Canaccord and the credit unions.

“The reason we’re going to Scotia is that Canaccord received its non-bank ABCP from Scotia Capital Markets and … Scotia is a party joined to a lawsuit relating to Canaccord’s allegation that Scotia is an expert and it relied on Scotia and it has joint responsibility.”

As well, she said, most of the Canaccord investors who have come forward on Facebook are holders of paper in the Structured Investment Trust III, and Bank of Nova Scotia is the issuing and paying agent. “They were an instrumental party to the operation of the trust.”

Bank AGMs have a question-and-answer segment and the men plan to use Ms. Urquhart’s proxy to make a statement and “request that Scotia pay up money,” she said.

Mr. Arthur said he has 25% of his net worth, mostly proceeds from the sale of a family farm, tied up in ABCP. “All the brokers tell me how safe it was,” he said of the $434,000 he has invested in ABCP. “They didn’t realize what the heck it was,” said Mr. Arthur, who plans to attend the AGM and hand out a letter the group was crafting late last night.

Brian Hunter, who started the Facebook site, said “we’re just trying to get our voice heard.” It’s believed to be one of the first times investors have galvanized around a social networking site to organize and push for compensation.

The site now has 56 participants, including some non-ABCP holders, such as journalists, lawyers and analysts. “It’s been very good and a little bit cathartic to find out there are others with the same problem,” Mr. Hunter said. He said Facebook is “a very, very simple tool that allows you to communicate with a large number of people with very little effort. It’s a good way of sharing information and blowing off a little bit of steam.”

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Public Service Sector Renewal and Gen Y: Don’t be efficient

Perhaps the biggest problem for Public Sector Renewal is the enourmous expectation problem created by the internet.

Many of today’s Gen Yers have access to a dizzying array of free online tools. Tools this online generations has grown up and used to organize and make more efficient their personal lives.


These range from the banal, such as Facebook (connect and find people), Evite and Socialzr (organize and send invites to parties), or Google Docs (manage version control and share essays across platforms) to the more sophisticated, such as Basecamp (manage school projects), del.icio.us (share research with friends), WordPress (share your thoughts) or TikiWiki (enable collaboration).

It isn’t hard to imagine how these tools can be used professionally. I’ve talked about the potential for a facebook-like application, but software similar to Evite and socialzr can help set up meetings, google docs and wiki’s can facilitate collaborative policy development, and basecamp is as effective at managing professional projects as it is school projects. A work blog can keep your colleagues up to date on your research and thinking as effectively as your personal blog keeps your friends up to date on your comings and goings.

And remember – these tools are not only free but people like using them.

However, as generation Y enters the work force – and, in particular the public service – it is confronted with a nasty reality. Their managers, Director Generals, ADMs and DMs aren’t familiar with these software programs and don’t grasp the full potential of the internet. More importantly, in the public service’s risk averse culture doing something new and different is frequently perceived as dangerous. And so, our intrepid new hires are literally being told – don’t be efficient.

This is remarkable. For perhaps the first time in the history of work a generation is finding that the tools they use to organize life at home allows them to be more productive than the tools they can use to organize life at work.

Take for example my friend who wanted to use survey monkey to send out a questionnaire asking 10 public servants across their department about potential dates and times when they would be free to meet.  The survey took 5 seconds to complete and would quickly identify the optimal date for such a meeting. However, her manager let her know very quickly that this was unacceptable. It was more important that each person be emailed – or better, called – individually, a process that gobbled up hours if not days. Time after time I hear stories of young people who, after doing what they do at home, quickly feel the full weight of the department descending on their cubicle. I won’t even mention an acquaintance who related a story of trying to set up a wiki (not even on accessible to the public!).

The larger point here is that it’s going to be hard to retain people when they feel like they have to work with two hands tied behind their back (because of the nature of the job public servants already work with one hand behind their back). Today’s best and brightest want the freedom to work quickly and efficiently – and why not? – this is what ambitious go getters do. Those that notice that their work lags too far behind what they can do on their own will find greener pastures to accomplish their aims.

Don’t believe me? Forget all the applications I mentioned above. Think about something as simple as Google. This simple application has created the expectation among Gen Yers (and even Xers and boomers) that information should be accessible and easily found. When was the last time you could easily find what you were looking for on a government webpage?

Public Service Sector Renewal’s biggest challenge is fighting the freedom that the internet is giving people. The freedom to accomplish tasks faster, to work more quickly and to be more effective – the only rub, is no one can control what anyone is doing because you can’t keep track of it all. There is simply too much going on. So, in short, in order to meet the expectations created by the internet the public service may have to learn to trust its employees.

Can it do this?

I don’t know.

Gen Y on Facebook – They Just Don’t Care

Last week I had the good fortune of being invited to give a talk and be part of a panel at a conference organized by Health Canada on Intergenerational Workplaces. I had a great time presenting, listening to the other speakers and meeting the participants.

Acknowledging the dangers of speaking in terms as broad as generations, there was a highlight moment about generational differences worth sharing. This moment reaffirmed to me how poorly Generation Y is understood – even the alleged “experts.”

During the panel someone asked (what has become and inevitable question) about Generation Y’s attitudes towards security and privacy. In short – don’t they know that the photo they are sharing on Facebook is accessible to the world?

Both the technology expert and the “generational” consultant on the panel talked about how Gen Yers obviously didn’t realize that when they post a picture (say, for example, a photo of them greedily swigging a beer at a conference they helped organize in Toronto) there are a ton of people who can access it – such as everyone in your municipal network (this could be, for example, all of Toronto). Both concluded that if Gen Yers realized what they were doing then they’d behave differently. As a result, it was up to us older – and obviously wiser – members of the audience to educate them.

deaves drinking on the job v2
This, to me, was a stunningly problematic diagnoses which in turn led to a flawed prescription.

My fellow panelists were basically asserting was that they – a boomer and a Gen Xer – had a better grasp of Facebook than the early adopting Gen Yers.  They were arguing that Gen Yers who share photos and information the panelists wouldn’t choose to share were – to put it bluntly – at best ignorant or naive, at worst, dumb. Remember, the conclusion is that these people mistakenly believe they are just sharing something with friends. If they knew it could end up getting shared more widely, they’d make a different choice.


When a young person shares a scandalous piece of news on Facebook or posts a picture of themselves drunk at a party you really think they believe others won’t be able to end up seeing it? More often than not… no! They know that all of Toronto may be able to see it. They just don’t care.

That’s right, many Gen Yers just don’t care.

Many take the attitude that what they do on their time is their business, and if you don’t like it… well that’s okay, I probably wouldn’t want to work for you anyway. And in an era of labour scarcity (who else is going to fill the jobs of all those retiring boomers) that attitude probably won’t push them out of the labour market.

What’s important here is that if you realize they don’t care – telling them that the photo they share is viewable by anyone isn’t going to change their behaviour. They already know it is viewable by everyone. While some may make different choices if they believed their career prospects might be impacted – many (and I mean many) will not. A number of Gen Yers (recognizing the enormous problems of using sweeping generalizations like generations) will be making different choices than both boomers and even Xers around both issues like privacy and what they feel is acceptable to share with the world.

I know many boomers believe this will impact Yers employment opportunities. Maybe. But then, boomers did elect a democratic president who admitted to smoking pot (but not inhaling) and a republican president whose done coke. Why shouldn’t a Gen Yer believe that if it is okay for the president to have engaged in that behaviour – how can a photo of me drunk at a party be a deal breaker?

Government Networks – Easy or Hard?

At the IPAC conference last week I did a panel on creating government networks. Prior to my contribution fellow panelist Dana Richardson, an ADM with the Government of Ontario, presented on her experience with creating inter-government networks. Her examples were interesting and insightful. More interesting still was her conclusion: creating networks is difficult.

Networked Snail - a metaphor for government

What makes this answer interesting is not it is correct (I’m not sure it is) but how it is a window into the problematic manner by which governments engage in network based activities.

While I have not studied Richardson’s examples I nonetheless have a hypothesis: these networks were difficult to create because they were between institutions. Consequently those being networked together weren’t be connected because they saw value in the network but because someone in their organization (likely their boss) felt it was important for them to be connected. In short, network participation was contrived and mandated.

This runs counter to what usually makes for an effective networks. Facebook, MySpace, the internet, fax machines, etc… these networks became successful not because someone ordered people to participate in them but because various individuals saw value in joining them and gauged their level of participation and activity accordingly. As more people joined, the more people found there was someone within the network with whom they wanted to connect – so they joined too.

This is because, often, a critical ingredient to successful networks is freedom of association. Motivated individuals are the best judges of what is interesting, useful and important to them. Consequently, when freedom of association exists, people will gravitate towards, and even form, epistemic communities with others that share or can give them, the knowledge and experience they value

I concede that you could be ordered to join a network, discover its utility, and then use it ever more. But in this day and age, when creating networks is getting easier and easier, people who want to self organize increasingly can and do. This means the obvious networks are already emerging/have already emerged. This brings us back to the problem. The reason mandated networks don’t work is because their participants either don’t know how to work together or don’t see the value in doing so. For governments (and really, any large organization), I suspect both are at play. Indeed, there is probably a significant gap between the number of people who are genuinely interested in their field of work (and so who join and participate in communities related to their work), and the number of people on payroll working for the organization in that field.

This isn’t to say mandated networks can’t be created or aren’t important. However, described this way Richardson’s statement becomes correct: they are hard to create. Consequently, you’d better be sure it is important enough to justify creating.

More interestingly however, you might find that you can essential create these networks without mandating them… just give your people the tools to find each other rather than forcing them together. You won’t get anywhere close to 100% participation, but those who see value in talking and working together will connect.

And if nobody does… maybe it is because they don’t see the value in it. If that is the case – all the networking in the world isn’t going to help. In all likelihood, you are probably asking the wrong question. Instead of: “how do we create a network for these people” try asking “why don’t they see the value in networking with one another.” Answer that, and I suspect you’ll change the equation.

IPAC Conference

Today I’m doing a panel on Networks and Networking in the Public Service at “Beyond Bureaucracy” a conference hosted by the Toronto Regional branch of IPAC.

As the description states “Informal channels of communication are vital networks that allow people to socialize and collaborate and, arguably, work more efficiently. Technology can make these networks indispensable, as shown by user-driven wikis and social networking sites like Facebook. ”

True and true. And then here’s a kicker. These networks exist whether organizations sanction them or not. Although not perfect, social networking software at least brings old hidden networks out into the open and at best helps subject them to other societal norms (think gender parity and racial diversity). Telling employees they can’t use facebook doesn’t destroy the network. It just forces it somewhere else, somewhere where you have even less visibility into how it manifests itself, who it benefits and how it grows.

In essence you strengthen old hidden networks. That thing we use to call the old boys club.

How to make $240M of Microsoft equity disappear

Last week a few press articles described how Google apparently lost to Microsoft in a bidding war to invest in Facebook. (MS won – investing $240M in Facebook)

Did Google lose? I’m not so sure… by “losing” it may have just pulled off one of the savviest negotiations I’ve ever seen. Google may never have been interested in Facebook, only in pumping up its value to ensure Microsoft overpaid.


Because Google is planning to destroy Facebook’s value.

Facebook – like all social network sites – is a walled garden. It’s like a cellphone company that only allows its users to call people on the same network – for example if you were a Rogers cellphone user, you wouldn’t be allowed to call your friend who is a Bell cellphone user. In Facebook’s case you can only send notes, play games (like my favourite, scrabblelicious) and share info with other people on Facebook. Want to join a group on Friendster? To bad.

Social networking sites do this for two reasons. First, if a number of your friends are on Facebook, you’ll also be inclined to join. Once a critical mass of people join, network effects kick in, and pretty soon everybody wants to join.

This is important for reason number two. The more people who join and spend time on their site, the more money they make on advertising and the higher the fees they can charge developers for accessing their user base. But this also means Facebook has to keep its users captive. If Facebook users could join groups on any social networking site, they might start spending more time on other sites – meaning less revenue for Facebook. Facebook’s capacity to generate revenue, and thus its value, therefor depends in large part on two variables: a) the size of its user base; and b) its capacity to keep users captive within your site’s walled garden.

This is why Google’s negotiation strategy was potentially devastating.

MicroSoft just paid $240M for a 1.6% stake in Facebook. The valuation was likely based in part, on the size of Facebook’s user base and the assumption that these users could be kept within the site’s walled garden.

Let’s go back to our cell phone example for a moment. Imagine if a bunch of cellphone companies suddenly decided to let their users call one another. People would quickly start gravitating to those cellphone companies because they could call more of their friends – regardless of which network they were on.

This is precisely the idea behind Google’s major announcement earlier this week. Google launched OpenSocial – a set of common APIs that let developers create applications that work on any social networks that choose to participate. In short, social networks that participate will be able to let their users share information with each other and join each other’s groups. Still more interesting MySpace has just announced it will participate in the scheme.

This is a lose-lose story for Facebook. If other social networking sites allow their users to connect with one another then Facebook’s users will probably drift over to one of these competitors – eroding Facebook’s value. If Facebook decides to jump on the bandwagon and also use the OpenSocial API’s then its userbase will no longer be as captive – also eroding its value.

Either way Google has just thrown a wrench into Facebook’s business model, a week after Microsoft paid top dollar for it.

As such, this could be a strategically brilliant move. In short, Google:

  • Saves spending $240M – $1B investing in Facebook
  • Creates a platform that, by eroding Facebook’s business model, makes Microsoft’s investment much riskier
  • Limit their exposure to an anti-trust case by not dominating yet another online service
  • Creates an open standard in the social network space, making it easier for Google to create its own social networking site later, once a clear successful business model emerges

Nice move.

Social networking vs. Government Silos'

As some of you may remember, back in May I published an op-ed on Facebook and government bureaucracy in the Globe and Mail. The response to the article has been significant, including emails from public servants across the country and several speaking engagements. As a result, I’m in the process of turning the op-ed into a full blown policy article. With luck somewhere like Policy Options will be interested in it.

So… if anyone has any stories – personal or in the media- they think might be relevant please do send them along. For example Debbie C. recently sent me this story, about the establishment of A-Space, a social networking site for US intelligence analysts, that is proving to be a very interesting case study.